Source: Photographer Dave Stahl
It’s been more than 3 years since I was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, one of the most common progressive neurodegenerative diseases. As I continue through the layers of this voyage, certain aspects of human nature and human need become clearer to me. The one that jumps out at me like a mugger on a dark night is addiction.
I am now an addict of sorts. No, not to street drugs or alcohol or any number of the dopamine activators that can offer physical thrills: I haven’t tried them all, but I’ve tried many (I came of age in the early 70s... ). And I fully admit to seeking thrills in the sports that I chose to participate in—motorcycling, riding waves, downhill skiing, and most recently, and hopefully in perpetuity, bicycling. Since I was a little kid, I been strongly attracted to activities that help me go faster.
But it is the drug that is prescribed to temporarily increase the amount of Dopamine available to the brain that I have most recently become dependent on: Carbidopa/Levodopa, aka Sinimet, the drug most commonly prescribed for PD patients, 4 times a day, once at bedtime every day. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is normally created and processed in the brain that helps us walk, talk, eat, drink, not get as stiff as a board any time one sits in a chair for too long, and perform most common functions we need to get through everyday life.
It isn’t so much that I get a thrill from it, but I so look forward to feeling relatively normal for a couple of hours after ingesting the little yellow pill-and-a-half.
After waiting for half an hour or more for the medicine to kick in, I can:
walk again without shuffling
get out of the car without having to think about where and when to move my legs so that I can elevate them over the edge of the door frame
not feel an emotional swing each time I run into a small problem
I can pedal in circles on my bicycle rather than in clunky squares
the left-hand tremor that interferes with working as a piano technician and playing the piano mercifully goes away for up to 2 hours
And so on
The recommended dosage varies from patient to patient depending on the effectiveness of the drug on the individual, but it typically starts out at a low dosage. It’s important to take the pills at even intervals throughout the day. I am currently taking 25 MG Carbidopa /100 MG Levodopa 4 times daily at 3.5 hour intervals and a time release version of the same drug at bedtime, primarily so I can walk to the bathroom for the late night piss. The beneficial effects start to wear off at around 2 hours, at which point I gradually revert to the Penguin shuffle and the left hand tremor.
Dosages can be increased. There are problems with increasing to more frequent and/or larger doses; they can lead to digestive issues, psychological problems, hallucinations and delusions if the drug is taken to often and/or in too large a quantity.
Yes, I am a user of the little yellow tablets. They improve my life immensely. It gives me some understanding and empathy for those with chemical dependency issues—prescription or self-prescribed--who are in their own way just trying to make their lives bearable.